Monday, February 7, 2011

Week Five: Why is the fulfillment of prophecy such a major theme in the Gospel of Matthew?

            Of the Synoptic Gospels, Matthew is the most Jewish in nature (Van Voorst 185). Thus, it makes sense that fulfillment of prophecy would be a main theme of the Gospel of Matthew. While Matthew portrays Jesus as “both the Jewish Messiah and the world’s Savior” (Van Voorst 185), in order for Jesus to be the Jewish Messiah, the fulfillment of prophecy had to occur. In chapter one, Matthew cites the words of the prophet Isaiah, “All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and hear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,’ which means, ‘God is with us’” (Matt 1.22-23). In this passage, Matthew’s Gospel is not the only thing that begins with prophecy— so, too, does Jesus’ life. And both the Gospel and Jesus’ life continue this pattern; Matthew goes on to make four more “fulfillment quotations” about “Jesus’ conception, birth, and rescue” (Van Voorst 187). These instances of fulfillment of prophecy serve as the basis for Matthew’s argument that Jesus is indeed the Messiah for whom the Jews have been waiting.
            Fulfillment of prophecy continues as a theme in Jesus’ life and teachings, especially the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 (Van Voorst 188). Here, Jesus proclaims, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill” (Matt 5.17).  Then, Jesus goes on to provide a reinterpretation of many Torah teachings, known as the antitheses (Van Voorst 188). Jesus uses the formula, “you have heard it said X, but I say to you Y” (Van Voorst 188) to both acknowledge and reinterpret the Torah. In these teachings, Jesus not only proclaims that he has come as a fulfillment of prophecy, he also establishes himself as the new, best, perfect interpreter of Torah (Brenneman 2/7/11). All of these aspects of Jesus’ life and teachings point to Matthew’s Jewish focus, as a Gospel written for an audience of mostly Jewish Christians (Van Voorst 198). Also, presenting Jesus as the fulfillment of prophecy and perfect interpreter of Torah could have helped win potential Jewish converts to Christianity by presenting Jesus’ story in appealing and relevant Jewish terms.
            I have always loved the Gospel of Matthew, and I think its focus on the fulfillment of prophecy is a contributing factor. As someone who has always been drawn to the writings of the prophets, it makes sense that I would also be drawn to the Gospel that intentionally connects the prophets to Christ! Before this class, I did not realize that this was a unique theme of the Gospel of Matthew. In fact, before this class, I did not even realize that there was so much diversity between the four Gospels. So far, I have really enjoyed learning about the characteristics of each Gospel; seeing the differences between them has enabled me to appreciate them all the more!

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